"I've lived on the
Island since '61, but I'm strictly a newcomer." Mr. Hale moved
to the Vineyard, when he purchased Martha's Vineyard Shipyard from Bob
The shipyard had at one
time employed more than 400 men working to fill major military boat
building contracts, and spanned much of the Vineyard Haven waterfront.
According to Mr. Hale, the Colby Family, which built the business to
such great proportions, lost their son and likely heir when his plane
was shot down over Germany during World War II. The elder Mr. Colby
subsequently lost interest in the business, and it went downhill.
Mr. Love had snatched the
business from the brink of extinction, but the recovery was far from
complete when Tom Hale bought it in '61. "It needed a lot of work,"
Mr. Hale rebuilt the Shipyard
to serve a clientele of mostly recreational boaters.
"It was a good life.
We worked hard, made a lot of friends, and, I hope, very few enemies.
We built boats in wood and in that other material," Mr. Hale says,
a reference to fiberglass, a material which is anathema to a maritime
traditionalist. "I was forced kicking and screaming into the 20th
During the 26 years of Tom
Hale's tenure at the helm, the Shipyard built about 150 boats, including
53 of the popular Vineyard Vixens, a double-ended fiberglass cruising
sailboat of Mr. Hale's design. He passed the torch on in 1986.
"Now, it's a first-class
boatyard run by my son Phillip, who does a much better job than I did,"
Mr. Hale says modestly. "I just go down to complain about my yard
bills. I'm not sure
what the word retirement means, but I no longer run around the boatyard,"
he says. "I seem to be very busy, but I don't know what all I'm
Since his retirement, Mr.
Hale has devoted his attention to "writing, maritime history and
allied interests," and with a look at the diverse array of pursuits
currently on his plate, one doesn't wonder that he is busy.
His associations are too
numerous to list here, but he sits on the boards of a number of organizations
devoted to maritime history, including the National Maritime Historical
Association, the Nautical Research Guild, and the Martha's Vineyard
Historical Society, which published The Ghost of the Grasshopper.
In addition to sitting for interviews about his new book, he recently
had several of his ship models in a show in Woods Hole and has shipped
off his exhibit on ship's lines and half models to the Center for Wooden
Boats in Seattle.
He is restoring a model
for the MV Historical Society, and has nearly finished building a model
of the Great Britannia. The 300ft. passenger vessel Great
Britannia, which was the first propeller-driven ship to cross the
Atlantic, was designed by Isumbard Kingdom Brunell, one of the "great
engineers of the industrial revolution." In 1853, the Great
Britainnia ran aground on Nantucket Shoals (as have many a ship
before and since), and broke two blades off of her enormous propeller.
While limping back to New York, she anchored for a night "between
the chops" here in Vineyard Haven. By the way, the New York shipyards
were unprepared to fix the newfangled prop, and the ship had to be towed
back to England for the repairs.
Mr. Hale also must make
time to get out on the water and to maintain his fleet of small boats.
He says, "I have thoughts of another book, but I'm not prepared
to say what it is."
A Coincidence of
Tom Hale met his wife Kelsey through a coincidence not unlike one that
might be found in The Ghost of the Grasshopper.
Mr. Hale first made the
acquaintance of the future Mrs. Kelsey Hale during World War II when
she worked in the office of the American Field Service.
"We met briefly before
I went overseas and saw each other briefly when I came back," he
After the tragic death of
Mr. Hale's first wife soon after his retirement from Martha's Vineyard
Shipyard, their paths crossed once more.
"By coincidence, 45
years later, we met again," he says. "I invited her to come
to the island to rekindle the acquaintance."
Mr. Hale says that he saw
something in her as she walked down the gangway from the ferry that
made him want to get to know her better. They were married four months
later in Bermuda at the Royal Dockyard.
"She's a lovely girl."
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